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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Global crises, websites of interest

This post may not have any direct connection with the subjects on which I have been lately requested to write: I shall ask all those good people to bear with me some more. It may also not be as coherent and incisive as my usual posts, because I have been rather distracted of late, and overworked, and half killed by the heat, and besides, a lot of thoughts have been rambling in my head, and it would take a very long post and too much time to get them organized into the kind of order I like. Nevertheless, I think the thoughts are important enough to jot down, and the interconnectedness will suggest itself to informed people who read closely enough.

Oil prices going through the roof, and human responsibility for global warming becoming almost irrefutable, and growing food scarcity, and China (now both the world’s leading producer of steel and biggest emitter of greenhouse gases) being rocked and embarrassed on the eve of the Olympic Games by violence both natural and human, and educated city-bred parents being suspected of killing their children to hide the skeletons in their own closets (the Aarushi Talwar incident) while hundreds of millions of supposedly educated young people keep themselves permanently anesthetized into believing that the world is fast ‘progressing’ because mobile phones keep getting snazzier yet cheaper, and new and ever more swanky shopping malls keep mushrooming all around them … what is really a wonder is that so many people still cannot see the connections (my old boys living in Calcutta have told me that power cuts have become far more frequent ever since a vast new power-guzzling mall came up in the south of the city)! When Meadows and Forrester of the Club of Rome wrote the Limits to Growth report in 1972 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limits_to_Growth and other links available through Google) about the inevitable end of the endlessly high-growth economic orthodoxy that ruled the world, they were mostly pooh-poohed, even by scientists who were all agog over the Green Revolution and quite sure that they would keep finding ever new oil reserves forever, or at least believed that the predicted disaster was comfortably many generations away. When I commented in the mid-80s on that report in The Telegraph of Calcutta, lamenting that the “insane, half-conscious conspiracy between ignorance, greed, fecundity and technology” was sure to spell disaster for all mankind, few bothered, for India was then girding up her loins for the economic growth-leap that would catapult her into the world’s big league of producers and consumers (as she is now rapidly becoming), and any advice of slowing down was anathema to everybody. Even when some directors started making movies like Mad Max and Waterworld and The Day After Tomorrow, they were (perhaps with a little secret unease?) dismissed as doomsayers and panicmongers. Warnings were not heeded, because neither politicians nor economists nor the world’s ruling plutocrats could ‘afford’ to think of alternative paradigms, and far too many had in any case drugged themselves into hallucinating that technology would keep fixing all problems as they arose in the course of mankind’s pursuit of limitless material prosperity on a planet whose resources were essentially and unavoidably limited (Kenneth Boulding had coined the term 'spaceship earth': who cares to know today?).

What I see happening all around me would be funny if it were not infinitely sad. Parts of mankind are beginning to wake up suddenly to the vast and imminent danger ahead. As proof, Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth has become a runaway hit, R.K. Pachauri has been given a Nobel Prize, and all kinds of very unlikely people are waking up to the need to really think out of the box (not the way techies and management junkies mindlessly mouth that piece of jargon). In this context, I should like all of you to visit three sites listed below:

http://www.theElders.org/,
http://www.resurgence.org/, and
http://www.justfortheloveofit.org/

the contents speak for themselves.

I find it funny that even folks like the flamboyant billionaire businessman Richard Branson are now extolling the essential virtues of Gandhian philosophy:
see http://www.resurgence.org/magazine/article1-Legacy-of-the-Mahatma.html

Though a microscopic minority (including geniuses like Tagore and Einstein) thought in his own time that Gandhi had something of supreme importance to say, most (including ‘disciples’ like Nehru) thought he was hopelessly old-fashioned and out of touch. People like Schumacher (Small is Beautiful), Capra (The Turning Point) and Amlan Dutta (The Gandhian Way – a book I reviewed in 1987) tried to draw our attention, but failed almost hopelessly. Maybe mankind needs looming disaster to wake up? Or will it still be too little and too late? – Remember, last year was the first in recorded history when the Arctic Ocean was entirely ice-free in summer!

Since I know from rather bitter experience that a lot of readers like to shoot their mouths, I would like to see evidence that anybody who comments on this has first taken the trouble to read the articles, books and website contents I have listed above. Otherwise, ask questions with an open mind, and be ready to mull over the answers, however strongly they trouble your prejudices. Nobody, for instance, who hasn’t read a single serious book on Gandhi (and doesn't want to, but is still quite sure that Gandhi was a fool) ought to comment here.
P.S.: I thought this post would be appropriate for World Environment Day.

3 comments:

Sritanu Chatterjee said...

Dear Suvro Da

About power cuts due to new shopping malls :

Two years back I attended an investor's conference and the last presentation was on which of the companies will constitute the Sensex. It was found that the power sector will dominate the sensex more than any other sector.In that discussion it was told that a shopping mall consumes 50 MW each year and there are about 200 malls that are scheduled to open in the next 5 years, will lead to shortage of 11,000 MW. Even if India achieves the target set in the Eleventh Five Year Plan,chances of which seem very remote, still the country will be enveloped in darkness.

But what I do not understand is that if there is power shortage then why did the corporation/government allowed the mall to be constructed. Before the starting of this summer the Tamil Nadu government also told that the state will suffer from acute power shortage as more industries have come up and this will lead to a mismatch in supply and demand. Within a week the power minister Mr. Arcot N Veeraswamy came out with an excellent plan on the recommendation of the industry bodies. Each zone in Tamil Nadu will have holidays on different days of the week so that Load Factor never reaches to its maximum. Offices and factories in Chennai remain closed on Monday. In Tirunellveli area it was on Wednesday. Already two months of extreme summer have gone by and still there is no report of power shortage in the state.

So what I say , is that if the government and people want then both industry and soceity can flourish without cursing each
other.

About Long Walk of Freeconomy :

“… a galloping new system of international finance…(which) differs radically from its precursors in that it was not built by politicians,economists,central bankers or finance ministers, nor did high-level international conferences produce a master plan. It was built by technology … by men and women who interconnected the planet with telecommunication and computer.”
(Walter Writson, the erstwhile CEO of Citigroup).


When I was going through the article of Free Economy, I felt skepticals on some of the issues raised. The article said that economics gained more importance in the last century as a portion of the social cake. But that happened not for the subject
itself as much it happened as an outfall of technological advancement. In previous centuries, wars did not effect the scoeity as much it did in the last century. I would rather ask economists as to which war other than the second world war gave birth to important subjects like Operation Research. When the soceity got affected then Economics became more relavent.

Before the wars common people had hardly known what scarcity means, either spirtiual or physical.

Reading the article , it seems that the author is asking us to return to the stone age. Think locally, act locally. May be
history will repeat itself and the human race will go through the full circle and start once again from the stone age. Oops ! wearing tree barks.

Freeconomics started in the Open Source Software World much earlier and so the author could have taken that as an instance to describe how a community survives by sharing the knowledge just for fun and doing social good. The author should known that the computer language(i.e php) that he is using to spread his message is an outcome of the Open source software world. MIT is one of the institute which has made its courses available to the whole world(refer to the site http://ocw.mit.edu)

Coming back to the words of Walter Writson, I would like to raise the question once again : Will technology transform human
race or the human race will transform technology ?

Regarding the criteria you have set for writing comments on the post , I have read the follwoing articles and books :
http://www.resurgence.org/
http://www.justfortheloveofit.org/
http://www.resurgence.org/magazine/article1-Legacy-of-the-Mahatma.html
My Experiments with Truth
The Turning Point
The Tao of Physiscs
In a Uncertain World( A chapter in the book recommends of taking the environment into consideration
while calculating GDP).
Wikinomics

Sayan Sarkar said...

Sir,
Speaking of global crises, I could not help but mention the following:

1) Energy security for the world
2) Renewable sources of energy
3) Climate Change
4) Food Security

With reference to 1) and 2) above, I would like to mention the Shell Sustainability Report 2007 (shell.com) which I read very recently, and would request everyone to read more from the internet if they have the time/inclination. In my personal capacity, I intend to join "Renewable Energy Special Interest Group, IIM Ahmedabad", which I feel would help me develop a social, technical and economic perspective of the energy crises.

And with reference to 3) above, I happened to listen to a Bangla radio programme aired on AIR Kolkata very recently. The topic for discussion was that hundreds of eminent scientists across the globe are united in protest against Al Gore's ' An Inconvenient Truth" .They are of the view that IPCC has deliberately doctored numerous research outcomes to fit the bill. And they have identified at least a score points of erroneous data presented in the motion picture. I was of the idea that IPCC was essentially about change that matters, but now it seems that even such an organization might be guilty of lobby-ism and politics. Food for thought ( and concern), I presume.

Thanking You
Yours Faithfully

Sayan Sarkar
sayan1013@yahoo.co.in

Rupam said...

NAME: Rupam Mukherjee
E-MAIL: rupam.mukherjee@gmail.com

Sir,

On the issue of global warming, I had a recent experience that I wish to share.

I work in IIT Kharagpur and in our campus there is lot of power wastage. Professors drive around in big fuel guzzling cars although our campus is small and tranquil enough to be covered on cycle. Students leave computers open all day.

I had suggested to start an energy championship among the various hostels where the most power economical hostel would be given a trophy. Also I had suggested felicitations for faculty and staff members who would consume minimum fuel and electricity.

Unfortunately, nobody from the authority cared to reply (it was mailed to at least a dozen deans, deputy directors etc.). It is the height of hypocrisy when these sam e people would deliver lectures on global warming in public forums.

Rupam Mukherjee